Thundercat Whitsundays Day Tour Review
Normally, I post my reviews on TripAdvisor, but I wanted to provide my genuine opinion on my own blog because I find that people will perhaps relate to individuals over individuals potentially coerced into posting reviews. So this is the first post in a series of tourism reviews.
About The Tour
I decided to try a tour in Airlie Beach, and decided to try Thundercat. Thundercat is run by Red Cat Adventures, so they offer more than just this day trip, but most people just do the day trip for affordability.
- Excellent snorkelling conditions, and knowledgeable staff
- Clean boat
- Good Food
- Timely complimentary shuttle service in the Airlie Beach and neighbouring areas
- Paid drinks and water
- Some defective snorkelling gear
- No time allotted for bathroom breaks
- Lack of information on itinerary
We snorkelled in two locations
- Pete's Bay
- Mantaray Bay
Prior to each dive, Cam gave us a briefing with information on what aquatic life to expect (great!). He seemed very enthusastic about the subject, and made jokes where possible. I would have liked some mention to max depth, as per the usual in dives, but I don't think it really is as relevant to for snorkelling.
It's your typical reef dive. The colours are very bright and plentiful. I was pleasantly reminded of my dive in Japanese Gardents in Tobago (one of the most memorable and best dives I have ever done). There was some current, but it only helped to see more of the coral reefs. You could spot numerous sea cucumbers, along with starfish, and even what I identified as an octopus!
The highlight of this dive is the 150-year-old clam: it sits in centre of the bay, and spans close to a metre in diameter. You can see the mouth opening and closing as the sun flucuates in intensity. Best viewed on a sporadically cloudly day.
Visibility: 6/10: 1 1/2 metres clearly Max Depth: 1m
By far the highlight of the trip: you are plunged in to a "bay" of thousands and thousands of fish. Cam and Mick liken the experience to
swimming in a fish tank.
You can find a variety of fish here, mainly the fish as big as a tuna (1.5 metres long), but called "Maori Wrasse". You also find damsel queens, and your classic zebra fish. Just think: a lot of fish.
It goes without saying that Mantaray Bay is worth your money. I do, however, still have some problems with the way tour operators showcased this location:
- Feeding the fish. The reason the fish are grouping in masses here is now because the boats are feeding the fish for the tourists. This breaks the cycle of the food chain, and we should avoid this!
- Driving boats in these locations. Driving boats scares away the fishes and the aquatic life. I can remember having my head underwater, looking for fish, wondering where they all went, when the piercing rumble of a boat engine cut through my ears. The fishes scurried away. I get that tourists need to get close, but in my humble opinion, those who cannot swim to see the action just have to miss out.
- Combining Tour Groups. It can often get confusing to identify the people in your own group, as they had another group snorkelling there when we arrived. I could have easily gotten sidetracked, thought I was still with my group, only to realize that my group had already left. It's not that easy to hear when the crew mates call you back; with your head underwater, the sounds often get drowned out, and with so many fish, it can be easy to lose track of the time.
- All Crew Above Water. This means you have no one to point to interesting aquatic life in the water. We had Cam on his boat, but he could only point to general vacinities in the water. I think it would have helped to have a divemaster in the water to identify aquatic life, as often done with commercial dives and divemasters.
Of course, all of these gripes are just minor to the experience; in the end, these don't really affect the quality of the snorkelling experience, but I do think they are worth noting.
Visibility: 5/10: 0.75 metres clearly Max Depth: 5m (but difficult to see that far anyway, as per the visibility)
The boat seemed quite clean compared to many other boats, and aslo sported a nice front deck and loudspeakers. For that reason, I would recommend sitting up front for the way there, and in the back on the way back (more on this later).
The boat does additionally sport a bathroom, but I saw no one use it; there was no time allotted, and I don't imagine it would be easy to go with the boat moving so fast.
They provide useful bags to seal any electronics from any water, and the seats are comfortable.
The music seems well thought out, and seems to be themed for the activity at hand. Nice music, too, probably geared more towards us millenials.
I was pleasently surprised by the food provided on the boat. Of course, "buffet-style" really only means you should take one serving, but it was still nice to enjoy some mixture of noodles, lettuce, cucumber, and fruit.
For vegans (or "cheagans" like me), the quiche is a no-go, but the rice noodles were a hit all around, and gluen-free.
I wouldn't say the portions were huge, but they were maybe just enough for a healthy-sized appetite.
I would have liked to see some food provided at the beginning of the tour, other than "tea", which only consisted of a butter/margerine and dairy brownie. For this reason, I highly suggest eating before the tour.
At the end, we were offered fruit skewers, apparently from Mick (the captain)'s personal home gardens. What a nice final touch!
Overall, food was still decent, considering we were on a boat.
The shuttle arrived on time, and even called me when I was running a bit late. Which is a good sign, meaning they would have potentially waited longer for me to turn up (I reckon 5 minutes or more). Though the service was timely, I would have prefferred more information on how long each stop would take, and how long it would take to get to each stop for those of us that had arrangements after the tour, coming back.
By far my biggest gripe with Thundercat was the lack of drinks on board. If you don't bring your own bottled water, you will have to pay the steep price of $2.00 per bottle.
It is my humble opinion that all tours should be compelled to offer free water on board. Especially during summer months, passengers are more succeptible to heat stroke, and if they are anything like me, they will refrain from making a purchase to save money.
I really think this tour operator would do well to supply water on request.
Bring a water bottle.
While I did bring my own mask, the snorkel which was supplied to me was defective. I did experience gradual flooding of the snorkel as I snorkelled. I informed Mick, who delegated to Cam on the smaller boat. I reasoned at that point that it was too far gone, because the time it would take to assemble my mask and a new snorkel would take away more time away from the snorkelling experience than I could afford.
Bring your own snorkel gear. Test it in the waters before going out. It will simplify the experience dramatically. Don't leave problems to when you first immerse youself in the water.
I can't comment on the integrated mask/snorkel solution, but I can say that my snorkel was defective, and that all of the snorkels appeared to be the same model.
A bigger concern I have more generally with dive operators is the lack of clear schedules and itineraries. In this case, Thundercat is no exception.
All you get when you sign up is a petty diagram with dots to indicate your destinations. You can go online, of course, and do your own research, but I don't think this should be required.
Even when you get on board, neither the captain or the crew tell you about the day's activities in detail.
Passengers would benefit from knowing when the best time is to go to the bathroom. And as it so happens, there really wasn't much of an opportunity.
So although there was some information on itinerary provided in advance, I would have preferred a detailed itinerary with the types of aquatic life to expect in each dive/snorkel and any relevant accompanying historical information.
The price is advertised at $180 per person, but you can get it cheaper if you ask tell any tour operator (not Red Cat Adventures themselves) that you were offered a discount when you called them on the phone. They should give you at least $9 dollars off the original $180, so $171.
Of course, while everything in Australia is more expensive than Canada, I was very perturbed when I found out an extra 2 (two) percent fee is applied to visa/credit purchases. The problem here is that the tour operator had me pay only a portion of the fee in person (which I paid in cash), but then participants are asked to pay the remainder upon arrival at the pier. I realize that this is the tour operator's fault (who sold the tickets on behalf of Thundercat for a commission), but this still annoyed me. This is how they get you, because it's highly unlikely you'll be carrying around $180 (one-hundred eighty dollars) cash on the day of a tour. I found this very sneaky, and I would have preferred if the tour operator had me pay up front during the booking.
If you decide to do this tour, make sure to bring cash to pay for the full tour upon arrival.
Whitsunday Islands National Park
For the first part of the tour, you spend 2 hours, from 10AM to noon at the Whitsundays National Park, where you are free to explore on your own. Unfortunately, because this is the main tourist attraction, it is overly busy, often so much that I would say the island probably breaks fire code; sometimes, it can be so difficult to navigate through large crowds that you can get stuck on the lookout point at the top.
I didn't really care for this part of the tour. You are expected to join the tour guide on a hike through the park, which generally requires hiking shoes. Following this, passengers are left to their own to explore for the better part of an hour and a half. So while you can spend that time on the beach, you're obviously better off exploring the outskirts of the island; the beach is, as you might expect, crowded.
As per Thundercat, I found their coordination poor here again; though the guide did mention on a number of occasions that we were to "meet at the beach at noon", it could have beared some repeating, as I did wonder at some point whether I had made it to the right beach (there are two beaches on the island).
If you are looking to explore the Whitsunday Islands, and you don't want to rent your own boat, then Thundercat is probably your best option. Admittedly, if I were to stay in Airlie Beach with longer, with more friends, or any combination thereof, I would probably aim to rent my own boat and then drive around without having to adhere to strict timetables. But since I assume most people don't have those resources, or want to take the risk, Thundercat seems to have a good blend of the most sought-after activities in Airlie Beach/Whitsunday Islands.